Sunday, 11 March 2018

The Apocalypse Is On the Way

It is a beautiful day in Victoria. The sun is out and it is 10C. The flowers are up. Many trees are in bloom. People are out working in their yards. But while eating breakfast I pick up the Times-Colonist. A front page story covers the demonstrations in Vancouver yesterday over the proposed expansion of Trans Mountain Pipeline. Indigenous leaders insist that the new pipeline will be stopped. But look how quickly opposition was shut down at Standing Rock. Today the repressive state has enormous power and popular opposition is weak. This is not the 1960s.
Vancouver rally againstTrans Moutain Pipeline

Friday Kinder Morgan obtained a court injunction banning protests at their Burnaby terminal. There had been around 15 protesters there for over a week trying to slow down new work, part of the expansion which has the approval of the Trudeau government and the appointed National Energy Board.

Is there a chance that the project can be stopped? The municipalities of Burnaby and Vancouver have gone to court to challenge the legality of the NEB and their declaration that the project can not be held up by laws existing in the municipalities. The NEB has the support of the Trudeau government.

There are high hopes that the John Horgan NDP government will stand by its pledge that the pipeline will not go ahead until an expert panel decides that there would be no threat posed to B.C. from an oil spill. But the B. C. government has already backed down on this political issue by agreeing to allow the courts to rule on the legality of the proposed commission. Does anyone really expect a court to rule against a corporate development project? Will anyone really be surprised if the Horgan government folds on this issue? The NDP government reversed its pledge to halt the Site C dam construction.

But what disturbs me most is the fact that in this political fight between the Alberta and BC NDP governments the issue of climate change and the burning of fossil fuels is nowhere to be found. Yet even the U.S. Energy Agency says that if the goal of keeping the increase of the planet’s temperature below 2 degrees C, all of the bitumen included in the projected plans of the existing oil corporations operating in the Alberta tar sands must stay in the ground!

There is a mountain of scientific studies reporting on the extreme dangers to the planet posed by climate change brought on by the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. There are endless news reports which show real changes happening right now. One can understand why most governments make only empty pledges to take action. But it is hard to understand why intelligent people do not take the issue seriously. It does seem to me, as a political economist with an historical orientation, that it is a reflection of the reality of the triumph of liberal individualism and the defeat of the democratic tradition of community solidarity.

The apocalypse:

(1) On the Beach (1957 film)

This film is based on Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel of the same name depicting the aftermath of a nuclear war. Unlike the novel, no blame is placed on whoever started the war; it is hinted in the film that the threat of annihilation may have arisen from an accident or misjudgment.

(2) Planet of the Apes (original film, 1968)

American astronauts land on strange planet where they find that evolved apes rule and dominate a smaller mute human population. Film ends when Charleton Heston, the captain, discovers the remains of the Statue of Liberty and realizes that they are on Earth which has been nearly destroyed after humans engaged in nuclear war.

(3) The Road (2009 film)

A man and his young son struggle to survive after a global cataclysm has caused perhaps by climate change. There is no living environment. They scavenge for supplies and avoid roaming gangs as they travel on a road to the southern coast in the hope that it will be warmer. Based on the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy, one of my very favourite authors. This novel won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006.

(4) The Last Policeman (trilogy by Ben H. Winters, 2013. )

The trilogy is a combination of a crime novel and science fiction. The world faces extinction as a large object from outer space approaches. How people react is the theme. As refugees approach the USA men turn to guns. Winters, it seems to me, is describing how Europeans are dealing with desperate refugees from the Middle East. The Pentagon study of the effects of climate change predicts American refugees (in the millions) fleeing to Canada.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Which Road for the New Democratic Party?

The other day I received an invitaion to take out a membership in the New Democratic Party. The Saskatchewan NDP is to choose a new leader on March 3. There are two declared candidates: Trent Wotherspoon and Ryan Meili. Both are elected members of the provincial caucus.

I was a member of the NDP in the 1970s when there was an open caucus within the party, known as “The Waffle,” the organization committed to an independent socialist Canada. Since then I rejoined from time to time to support individual candidates for leadership of the provincial party.

The Popular Base of the Original Party

The NDP traces its history back to the farmer-labour and democratic movements in the province in the early days of the last century. The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) party was formed in 1933 and elected government in 1944 with Tommy Douglas as premier. They governed for 20 years, building a progressive political economy in a hinterland area of North America. They were always the “good guys,” representing the common people. The “bad guys,” were first the Liberal Party and then the Conservatives the representatives of the capitalist interests based in central Canada and the United States. The Liberals under Ross Thatcher ran the province from 1964 – 1971.

The Election in 1971 Reflected Major Political Changes

The 1970s were new times. The civil rights struggle in the USA had led to political movements which had their supporters in Canada. There was growing opposition to the Canadian government’s support for the US government’s unpopular war in Vietnam. At the same time voices were raised against the political economy of continentalism and the domination of Canada by branch plants of American corporations.

In general the Waffle movement was very influential in Saskatchewan. It had a significent following in the NDP. In addition the Saskatchewan Farmer’s Union, the Saskatchewan Federation o Labour and the Saskatchewan Teacher’s Federation were growing in strength. University students were becoming politically active. Public opinion was moving to the left. Under the leadership of Allan Blakeney the NDP won the provincial election in 1971.

The Blakeney Government, 1971 – 1982

The new NDP government was determined to change the direction of the development of the province. This required a major shift to socially progressive tax policies based on ability to pay. The resource extraction industries, heavily dominated by large foreign corporations, were challenged. The resource royalties they paid were raised substantially. A Heritage Fund was created and royalties were used to expand local ownership of the resource sector. The Saskatchewan Mining and Development Corporation was created and invested in the North. Part of the potash industry was nationalized. The Saskatchewan Oil Corporation was created.

These policies paid off. For example, social assistance rates were raised from the poverty level to the basic needs level, the highest in Canada. New social housing was built. Low income renters received support, as did low income seniors. Unemployment dropped to the lowest level in Canada,

Nevertheless, the Blakeney government was defeated in the 1982 election. A new right wing provincial party, the Conservatives, under Grant Devine, formed the government and moved the province in a different direction. They were guided by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her team and pursued a right wing liberal free market agenda. The NDP kept Allan Blakney as leader until after their defeat in the 1986 election. Roy Romanow, a Saskatoon lawyer, was selected the new leader. He represented the right wing of the party. The progressive left in the party failed to put forth a candidate.

Grant Devine’s government pushed through programs and policies that confronted the progressive social democratic culture established by CCF-NDP governments. Roy Romanow’s NDP limited their opposition to debates in the provincial legislature. But they were greatly aided by the actions mobilized by the Saskatchewan Coalition for Social Justice. Across Canada similar coalitions were formed to oppose the free trade agreements being actively promoted by big business organizations. They included a wide range of popular groups including labour, farmers, church organizations, students, women’s organizations, the Environmental Network, etc. The crunch came when the Devine government began to privatize the large Crown Corporations.

The 1991 Election Resulted in a Major Victory for the Political Left

NDP supporters expected a return to the Blakeney policies. NDP candidates promised as much during the campaign. However, a major battle erupted when the Romanow government brought forth its first budget. It was a right wing liberal budget which raised regressive taxes and cut programs. It followed the precedent of the Labour governments in Australia and New Zealand, the neoliberal model of social democracy. The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour and the Coalition for Social Justice urged the Romanow government to follow the path of Tommy Douglas’ government: pay off the provincial debt over 20 years and keep pushing programs that benefit the majority.

But the neoliberals were in control. TheNDP government completed the privatization of the Crown corporations in the resource sector. They privatized the Lloydminister heavy oil upgrader. They shut down the Heritage Fund. They privatized the natural gas industry created by Sask Power. They froze social assistance rates for eight years!

The NDP managed to win re-election in the election in 1995, but voter turnout fell from the normal 77%-80% to 57%. By 1999 voters began to rebel. With a 56% turnout, the vote for the NDP fell to 39% and they had to form a coalition with the Liberal Party to continue as government. NDP memberships had declined from 46,000 in 1991 to only 8,000in 1999. Roy Romanow resigned as Premier and in 2001 Lorne Calvert took over as leader of the NDP and premier.

From the Natural Governing Party to a Weak Opposition Party

Calvert continued the general neoliberal direction of the NDP. The most significant action was to further reduce the royalty rates for natural resource extraction. The right wing Fraser Institute declared the Saskatchewan NDP to be the best provincial government in Canada. Their survey of corporate directors concluded Saskatchewan was the best place to invest, with the lowest taxes and few government regulations. In the 2003 provincial election the NDP got 39% of the vote; only 58% of eligible voters cast a ballot. In the 2007 election the NDP vote fell to 37%, while 60% voted.

Calvert’s government even repealed the Blakeney government’s popular legislation protecting Saskatchewan’s farmland from froreign and corporate ownership.

Lorne Calvert resigned, and in desperation the NDP called Dwaine Linginfelter back to lead the party. He had been Deputy Leader under Romanow but had quit politics for a top job with an oil corporation. In the 2011 election the NDP received only 32% of the vote, and voter turnout fell to 51% In the 2016 election the NDP vote was only 30% with a voter turnout of 53%.

The Choice on March 3
Ryan Meili and Trent Wotherspoon

The two candidates for the leadership of the Saskatchewan NDP follow the script that has been developed by social democratic parties over recent years. There have been several televised debates, which I have not watched. The media has reported that there were few differences in policy. Both want to improve social programs, reduce poverty, find housing for the homeless, create a pharmacare program, end corporate and union political donations to political parties, and work to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Both are committed to defending the remaining Crown Corporations, and both want to see a shift to green energy.

What is notable is their refusal to confront the major social democrat policy shift to the right beginning with the Romanow government. There is no pledge to a return to a progressive taxation program. Why should social democrats be satisfied with foreign ownership and control of the resource sector? Why should they be satisfied with resource royalties that are lower than those set by Sarah Palin’s Republican government in Alaska?

The NDP does not want to examine why their vote has fallen so far. They don’t want to ask why so many members have quit. They don’t want to ask why 50% of voters now stay home on election day.

Ryan Meili will most likely be the next leader of the party. But it seems highly unlikely that with this liberal platform he can win the election in 2020. I will sit this one out.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

The Threat Posed by

The Globe and Mail’s editors and NATO have published a strong attack (November 18, 2017) on, a website that regularly publishes posts which are critical of the US government, particularly its foreign and military policies. This comes at a time when the liberal political establishment is pushing for political censorship of the alternate media.
Kobani, Syria after U. S. bombing attack

In the 1950s I lived in Washington, DC and witnessed the impact of McCarthyism on the academic environment, the civil service and the racial and gay communities.. But ten years later there was the civil rights movement and the dramatic growth of the anti-war movement.

I have published a few articles on, mostly covering the research I was doing on Afghanistan. One article I wrote in 2009, “Crushing Democracy in Afghanistan,” was reprinted  by Kabul Press. The editor asked me to write more articles as he felt the mainstream media in North America was far off base on Afghan politics.

In 1970 the US government began to give financial support to Sunni Islamist organizations in Afghanistan. In July 1979 the US government and Saudi Arabia began major funding of the Sunni Islamist military forces opposing the Marxist government in Kabul and their Soviet allies. That has turned out well, hasn’t it?

US policy in the Middle East has followed the Carter Doctrine: the close alliance with the feudal Gulf States and the control of their oil is a vital interest. New wars in the Middle East began in 1991. The “Assad Must Go” policy associated with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, is the latest. But public opinion polls in both Canada and the USA reveal that the majority do not want any more wars.

The results of these policies, strongly criticized in posts on,  is very clear.  Mass destruction. Many thousands killed. Millions of refugees. Terrorist attacks on civilians. The rise of new radical right wing political parties. While NATO moves steadily to surround and isolate Russia., it looks like the NATO determination to remove Assad will result in greatly enhancing Russia’s standing in the Middle East.

For NATO and the US Deep State we have the mainstream news by Mark MacKinnon and Doug Saunders. For the critics there is Seymour Hersh and Robert Fisk. The full story of what is happening will eventually emerge.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

No Is Not Enough

Naomi Klein’s new book, No Is Not Enough is on the best sellers lists. I had read and admired her two previous books: The Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything. As she points out, this is a very different book. It is a popular tract on how we need to work together to oppose and replace Donald Trump as the President of the United States. The answer is not found in one-day marches on single issues but in bringing people together in an organized way to build an alternative movement.

If you regularly read the paper, follow the news on television or go online you will be familiar with the Trump phenomenon. In Canada it has been reported that most people now watch CNN and not the CBC or CTV. 

    It is only when you get to th last 40 pages of the book that Canada enters the picture: a look at the formation of the Leap Manifesto as one example of an effort to bring people together in a new progressive political formation. But there is no real examination of the experience of the Leap Manifesto. For example, none of the four candidates for the leadership of the New Democratic Party, a very moderate social democratic party, were willing to back the Manifesto. There is no evidence that any serious organization is being done around the manifesto.

Naomi Klein has deep ties to the USA. While born in Montreal, her parents are both American and she has dual citizenship. She writes for many publications but is a Contributing Editor to The Nation magazine. In the 2016 US presidential campaign both The Nation and Klein supported the candidacy of Bernie Sanders.    

The financial crisis of 2009 and the Centre-Left    

Where is the analysis of the Democrat Party? Even before entering the White House, Barrack Obama revealed his true colours. He took time off from the presidential campaign in October to go to Washington to pressure Democrats in Congress to support President Bush’s TARP program for bailing out the banks. Without majority support in Congress from the Democrats TARP would not have passed . The majority of the Republicans voted to let the market do its job, destroy the weak banks and let the strong ones survive. “Creative destruction” as Schumpeter called it.

Klein comments “What if the Democrats had used the leverage they had in 2009 and 2010 to make serious, substantive restructuring demands of the banks and the auto giants in exchange for continuing to bail them out.” Why would the Democrats do that? They are known as “the party of Wall Street” for good reason.

This is one of the frustrations with this book. We all saw on TV the massive support that came to Bernie Sanders during his left wing presidential campaign. When it became clear that the establishment of the Democratic Party was not going to let him get the nomination, Jill Stein offered to step down and let Sanders take her role as the presidential candidate of the Green Party. This would permit his “political revolution” to continue and confront the “Duopoly” of the American political-economic Establishment. Instead, Sanders declined the offer and  told his supporters to join the Democratic Party and to support Hillary Clinton. Klein avoids any comment on this crucial political shift. The radical democratic movement behind Sanders vanished.

What about American militarism?

There is another key issue which the progressive democratic left must confront: the militarism and imperialism of the Anglo-American alliance. Bernie Sanders was rightly criticized for almost completely ignoring this in his campaign. Some will remember that in his presidential campaign Trump argued that NATO was obsolete and should be shut down and that if he were elected President he would put an end to the politics of regime change. He would “drain the swamp” in Washington.

Public opinion polls in the USA showed that the majority of Americans were opposed to more wars. President Obama had bombed seven Muslim countries. Klein has dodged this key issue. In contrast, Martin Luther King insisted that racism and poverty in the USA were tied to militarism and imperialism and the US had to end the war in Vietnam. Soon after he was assassinated. 

Social Democracy and the rise of right wing nationalism
In the fall of this year there were two important elections in Europe. In September 2017 there was a national election in Germany. Angela Merkel and the Christian Democrats lost 65 seats in the legislature and saw their popular vote total fell by 8. Percentage points. The Social Democrats (SPD) lost 40 seats and saw their share of the vote fall to 20%, the lowest total since the end of WWII. The new right wing Alternative for Germany (AFD) won 94 seats and 12.6% of the vote.

In the general election in Austria in October the Social Democrats (SPO) won 27% of the vote and 52 seats in the legislature. But the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), a right wing nationalist party, won  26% of the votes and 51 seats in the legislature. In both these countries the social democratic parties had supported a neoliberal austerity program that had a dramatic negative impact on their trade union partners. To what extent is the rise of the new nationalist right wing parties due to the very significant move to the right by the social democratic parties? Klein does not get in to this, perhaps because the book is directed to a US audience.

Canada’s example of building a political alliance

There is one recent example of working together to build a new political alliance. In the late 1980s in both Canada and the USA popular organizations, led by the trade union movements, were formed –  broad political alliances to oppose the free trade agreements. In Canada there also was the formation of provincial Coalitions for Social Justice. Many popular groups joined in these alliances. Members of these groups individually chose to focus their political work in these coalitions. A similar organization was formed in Mexico in the 1990s.

One problem with these coalitions was that they were formed to try to defeat a precise political agenda put forth by big business. There was no attempt to formulate a positive alternative vision. Many saw the  coalitions as an arm of the social democratic parties. The Sanders movement demonstrated that this is now possible. But it would not work in the Democratic Party or in a Tony Blair-Bill Clinton neoliberal formation called The New Democrats. Unfortunately Klein chose not to assess this example.

No Is Not Enough: Resisting the New Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. By Naomi Klein. Toronto: Knopf Canada , 2017


Monday, 16 October 2017

Natural Resources: The Struggle between Democracy and Liberalism

Husky heavy oil upgrader at Lloydminister

For thousands of years human beings lived in very small communities, commonly referred to by anthropologists as “band societies.” These were egalitarian, democratic societies, based on the principles of reciprocity. Given this long history, one could argue that this is the normal social structure for human beings. The basic moral principles of these societies were altruism and solidarity. Land and natural resources were common to all.

    In these democratic societies there were differences in personal property, but there was no concept of private property in the means of production, which is the standard today. Everyone had access to natural resources and was guaranteed adequate food, clothing and shelter. Customs, rules and moral codes were established on the basic democratic principle of utilitarianism. Political decisions were made by popular participation. Anthropologists have noted that in these societies, sharing among the group increases when there is a shortage of food or a threat of starvation.

    In all these societies, land and natural resources belonged to the people as a whole. The different communities often had territories where they operated, recognized by others, but even here there was no strict territorial notion of ownership. These band and tribal societies have been held up as the earliest examples of democracies. The fundamental value was the recognition of the equal worth of all human beings.  (See Fried, 1967; Hindess and Hirst, 1973; Lewellen, 1992)

Unequal access to land and resources

    Change started to come with the neolithic revolution, the development of modern agriculture. Through the use of improved staple crops, the introduction of draft animals, and the use of irrigation, those who farmed the land were able to produce an economic surplus. The storage and distribution of cereal grains, in particular, allowed the development of a social division of labour. This new social system first occurred in Mesopotamia. 
    We see the creation of social classes, the fundamental division between the political, religious and economic elite, who had some form of special use rights over land and resources, and the majority who were the producers: serfs, slaves, peasants, peons, independent farmers who paid a tax, those under debt bondage, etc.. It was common that the producing class was forced to surrender 50% of the crop that their labour had produced. This was called “rent,” surrendered supposedly for the right to have use of the land. However, in reality this was a system of appropriation of the “surplus labour” from the agricultural producers, the surplus over and above what was necessary for the survival of the producing family.

    In these new hierarchical societies, where the farming classes were grossly exploited and often faced starvation, the political state became necessary in order to enforce the social division of labour. With clear class divisions, laws and rules were established and implemented by the dominant classes. The military, the penal system, and the death penalty became central characteristics of these states. It is in Mesopotamia that we first see the use of organized religion as an important ideological institution in the defence of hierarchy and inequality. (Bellwood, 2005; Bottero, 1992; Flannery and Marcus, 2012; Gamble, 2013; Leick, 2001; Weaver, 2003)

    Rebellions by the producing classes had to be contained. But while access to land and resources was unequal, the concept of individual ownership was virtually non existent. As territorial states were developed, land and natural resources became state property, to be allocated by the ruling political elite. (See Harris, 1977; Balandier, 1970; Krader, 1968)

    In Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire, the decentralized political system led to the development of the feudal system of ownership and use of land and other resources. Local lords and tenant farmers had rights to land; the serfs paid a rent to their landlords, in the form of products, labour time and then later money. But there was no private ownership of land, and serfs had rights to the use of land.

    The shift to private ownership of land and resources came during the early rise of capitalism, the period commonly referred to as mercantilism, roughly between 1500 and 1750. Mercantilism was characterized by the formation of the territorial state, the development of the modern state political system, and the expansion of European imperialism and colonialism around the world. The territorial state became the new owner of all resources, and the absolutist kings and queens granted land and other natural resources to privileged individuals.

Cameco Corporation uranium mine
Land rights and imperialism

    For Canadians, what is most important is the changes that were occurring in England. The Norman invasion of 1066 began the process of establishing a more centralized political order. William the Conqueror laid claim to all of England by the right of conquest. As the absolute sovereign, he then allocated all the land of the country to a special group of aristocrats. These lords in turn granted land use to other subsidiary lords, then down to the tenants who actually did the farming. Peasants had the right to land use, for which product and services were rendered as rent. But there was still no concept of private ownership of land; lords could not buy and sell land and resources as if they were private property. The Crown still held absolute property rights.

    However, the landlords strove always to increase their control over the land. Parliament was originated as an instrument by which the landlords used their political power to gain the right to private ownership of land and resources from the absolute monarch. By the 17th century men with property had used their complete control of Parliament to establish a new legal system which granted them private property rights. Whereas the feudal system had been based on relationships between persons, by the 17th century this had been replaced by the capitalist concept of the exchange of things. (Hindess and Hirst, 1975; MacPherson, 1962; Vogt, 1999)                                                           
    The other major development in Europe over the mercantile period was modern imperialism and colonialism. England and the other major European nation-states embarked on extensive military assaults around the world. This involved not only the subjugation of the majority of the people of the world but also the imposition of absolutist colonial regimes. In all the conquered areas of the world, which included almost all of the non-white and non-Christian peoples, the colonial powers ended all systems of common ownership of land and resources. As one political economist noted, these acts of piracy “signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.” Not only did the imperial states seize all land and resources, individuals and their families arrived from Europe bent on grabbing “free land” from the indigenous populations. (See Weaver, 2003)                                                            
    Those of us who live in western Canada know this from our own history. On May 2, 1670 the British Crown created the Hudson Bay Company and gave the company “the sole trade and commerce of all these seas, straits, bays, rivers, lakes, creeks and sounds ... that lie within the entrance of the straits, commonly called Hudson Straits and the possession of all such lands and territories not already possessed by other subjects or the subject of any other Christian prince or state.” The mercantile corporation was declared to be the “true and absolute lords and proprietors of the entire territory.” It mattered not who lived on this land.
Liberalism and the right to steal land and resources

    The European monarchs had no problem justifying their conquest and domination of other peoples around the world. The indigenous people were described as barbarians, were not Christians, and were by definition inferior. The Europeans were bringing Christianity and civilization. It took a while for the Church in Rome to determine that the non-white people around the world were actually human beings. The Church then ordered an end the practice of indiscriminately killing these people; instead , they were to become slaves and serfs to work in agriculture, forestry and mining.

    But some English capitalists felt the need for a moral justification beyond conquest for seizing other people’s land and resources and ending their freedom. The most influential defence of the new capitalist imperialism was set forth by John Locke (1637-1704), generally considered to be the founder of liberalism and liberal political economy. He set down the ideological justification for individual rights, the right to own private property and the justification for imperialism and colonialism in The Second Treatise of Government (1690) and Some Considerations of the Consequences of the Lowering of Interest and Raising the Value of Money (1691).                                                                
    Locke argued that England had the right to seize land abroad as their settlers and business enterprises would be productively using the land and resources. The land not under cultivation by the indigenous population was considered “waste land” and could be seized at will. But Locke went farther in advancing the liberal view of private property. Since the indigenous populations of North America cultivated their lands in a collective or democratic manner, Locke argued that they had no claim to it. Under the principles of liberalism, those who farmed could only establish a legal claim if the land or resources were used on an individual basis; it had to be enclosed and fenced off by individuals. Since this was not the case in North America, new local governments, enterprises and settlers were free to take any land that was being used by the indigenous populations.                            
    Equally important to establishing the liberal capitalist view of private property, Locke argued that those individuals and enterprises which seized land and natural resources did not require the consent of others or the community in general. North America was “wilderness” or “vacant space” and any use of the land by colonizers would be a beneficial improvement. He also stressed that it was not necessary for those who seized this land and resources to pay any compensation to the general public. Furthermore, the indigenous populations could only claim the right to use the land and resources if they were selling their product on the world market.  

    Finally, Locke argued, government was needed to establish rules to defend the rights of the owners of private property. This is the first task of governments. It is only logical that those who participate in politics, those who can be classed as “citizens,” who can vote and  hold a seat in Parliament, is limited to men who own property. (Arneil, 1996; Macpherson, 1992)

Saskatchewan Potash Corporation

The democratic reaction

    The traditional liberal view of ownership and control of natural resources by a small group of men did not gone unchallenged. Over time we have seen the struggle to revive the democratic tradition. In the political area, men without property mobilized in a broad fashion to achieve equal political rights with those who had property and the right to form trade unions. Those who were slaves struggled to achieve freedom. Non-whites fought to obtain the same rights as whites. Colonized peoples took up arms to achieve independence from the European empires and establish their own governments. Women continue to struggle to be recognized as persons with equal rights with men.                              
    As democracy spread across the world  the majority who did not own private property in the means of production took political action, formed political parties, eventually formed governments, and pushed for economic and social rights and greater equality.  Part of this broad democratic struggle  has included the demand that natural resources belong to the people as a whole. Elected governments, with sovereign power, can redefine ownership and how resources are developed and used. It is clear that in the period since the rise of capitalism and liberalism, the central political struggle around the world has been between the supporters of the liberal order of privileges for the few and those who support the democratic value of equal rights for all.

Arneil, Barbara. 1996. John Locke and America: The Defence of English Colonialism. Oxford: Oxford Clarendon Press.

Balandier, Georges. 1970. Political Anthropology. London: Allen Lane the Penguin Press.

Bellwood, Peter. 2005. First Farmers: The Origins of Agricultural Societies. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Bottero. Jean. 1992.  Mesopotamia: Writing, Reasoning and the Gods.  Chicago :University of Chicago Press.

Flannery, Kent and Joyce Marcus. 2012. The Creation of Inequality. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Fried, Morton H. 1967. The Evolution of Political Society. New York: Random House.

Gamble, Clive. 2013. Settling the Earth: The Archeology of Deep Human History. New York: Cambridge University Press. 

Harris, Marvin. 1978. Cannibals and Kings: The Origins of Cultures. New York: Random House.

Hindness, Barry and Paul Q. Hirst. 1975. Pre-Capitalist Modes of Production. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Krader, Lawrence. 1968. The Formation of the State. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall.

Leick, Gwendolyn. 2001. Mesopotamia: The Invention of the City. London: Penguin Books.

Lewellen, Ted C. 1992. Political Anthropology: An Introduction. London: Bergin & Garvey.

Macpherson, C. B. 1962. The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke. New York: Oxford University Press.

Megarry, Tim. 1995. Society in Prehistory: The Origins of Human Culture. New York: New York University Press.

Vogt, Roy. 1999. Who’s Property: The Deepening Conflict Between Private Property and Democracy in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Weaver, John C. 2003. The Great Land Rush and the Making of the Modern World, 1650 - 1900. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Origins of the Free Trade Agreements

The Trudeau government is currently re-negotiating NAFTA with the governments of the USA and Mexico. The results we are told will be Win!  Win! Win!

How can Canada lose? The standard line from big business, the mass media and mainstream academics is that everyone benefits from free trade.  Consumers profit from lower prices for all goods and services. So while we wait to see how the proposed new NAFTA negotiations will go,  it might useful to remember the major political battle that transpired as the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement (CUSFTA) and NAFTA were created. Who pushed for these agreements? What was the opposition in all three countries?

The Push from the United States 

Free Trade Is For Capital Not Labour

At the beginning, a free trade agreement between the United States and Canada was proposed by Ronald Reagan in his 1980 Presidential campaign. In 1983 Paul Robinson, the U..S. ambassador to Canada, began talks with Sam Hughes, President of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. The US insisted that the official request for negotiations had to come from Canada in order to try to contain nationalist political opposition.

The US administration had goals: the elimination of the Foreign Investment Review Agency,  the National Energy Program and the Canada-US Auto Pact.  They wanted the agreement to include services, agriculture and culture. All federal and provincial government subsidies should be eliminated and “national treatment” guaranteed for American investments. Municipal and provincial governments were not to give preference to local, Canadian companies. The big surprise was that the final draft of CUSFTA also included a continental energy agreement that gave US investors a preferred status and guaranteed access.

The US government initiative had strong support among the American corporate sector. In 1987 over 400 large corporations created the American Coalition for Trade Expansion with Canada. They spent heavily on advertisements and began a major lobbying campaign in Washington.

Canadian Business Support for the Agreement

In Canada the Chamber of Commerce led the campaign. They were joined by the powerful Business Council on National Issues, the Canadian Manufacturers Association, the Canadian Bankers Association, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, and many other business organizations. They achieved support from the Royal Commission on the Economic Union and Development Prospects, headed by Donald Macdonald. After Brian Mulroney and the Conservatives were elected in 1984, the Canadian government pushed hard for a bilateral free trade agreement.

Strong Opposition in Canada                                                                               
There was strong opposition to the agreement in Canada. It was led by the Action Canada Network, anchored by the Canadian Labour Congress and the Quebec trade union federations. The coalition included teachers organizations, most farm organizations, the major women’s organizations, the Assembly of First Nations, the Canadian Environmental Network, and the Canadian Conference of the Arts. Public opinion polls revealed majority opposition to any agreement.

The Canadian business alliance played a key propaganda role in the federal election in the fall of 1988, known as the “free trade election” because of the strong opposition taken by John Turner, the leader of the Liberal Party. The New Democratic Party also opposed the agreement, but its leader, Ed Broadbent, played down the issue in his campaign.

The Conservatives won a majority of the seats in the House of Commons. But the Liberals and the NDP together took 56 percent of the popular vote. This explains why big business in Canada has been so committed to keeping the British first-past-the-post electoral system. Ronald Reagan declared CUSFTA “the new economic constitution for North America.”

Negotiating NAFTA                                                                                           

Historically, Mexican business organizations had not opposed the Keynsian “populist” agenda. They had clearly benefited from one policy in particular: when a foreign-owned corporation sought permission to build a plant in Mexico, they were required by law to find a Mexican partner and give them 51% of the voting stock. This had resulted in strong business organizations. As they said in Mexico, “300 businessmen run the country.”

This was quite a contrast to Canada which put up tariffs under the National Policy to try to force American corporations to manufacture in Canada. The result was the “miniature replica” problem: high foreign ownership, very inefficient Canadian branch plants, and a relatively weak capitalist class.

This changed in Mexico with a new political leadership that had largely been trained at elite American universities. They absorbed the neoliberal agenda advanced by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan: free trade, the free market, government deregulation, the privatization of profitable state-owned enterprises, including public utilities, and a broad attack on labour unions and the welfare state.

While the media emphasized the benefits to consumers of the removal of tariffs, in general they were already below the 10% level. Big business, sitting on excess capital, wanted the right to invest anywhere, sell their products and services anywhere, and repatriate their profits without government interference. Corporate taxes would be reduced and tax havens expanded.

The Alternative Agenda

When negotiations for NAFTA began, the Canadian and American anti-free trade coalitions were still in place. In Mexico, a similar coalition was formed, the Mexican Network on Free Trade (RMALC). Their goal, supported by their American and Canadian counterparts, was to raise Mexican wages and standards of work up to the highest levels in the northern states. This included human rights protections as found in the European Union, rules of the International Labour Organization on labour rights, and health and safety rules. The coalitions also argued that corporations should not be permitted to move to Mexico to avoid environmental regulations.
Of course, when the final draft of NAFTA was released none of these objectives were included. Corporations were moving to Mexico to maximized profits by specifically taking advantage of much lower wages, lower taxes and weaker regulations.

For many years public opinion polls in Mexico have shown majority opposition to NAFTA. Economic growth and job creation was much higher during the `populist” period, before the new shift to the politics of neoliberalism and structural adjustment.Today that opposition has been enhanced by the politics of Donald Trump. This is reflected in the rise of support for Manuel Lopez Obrador in recent public opinion polls. 

John W. Warnock is retired from teaching political economy and sociology at the University of Regina. He is author of Free Trade and the New Right Agenda (1988) and The Other Mexico: The North American Alliance Completed (1995).               

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Tina Beaudry-Mellor Seeks Leadership of Saskatchewan Party


Tina Beaudry-Mellor
Minister of Social Services
P. O. Box 2405, Station Main
Regina, SK S4P 4L7

Hi Tina:

It has been quite a while since we have talked. Congratulations on your political success. You might remember that when I taught Political Science and Sociology at the University of Regina it was as a sessional or contract instructor, which meant low pay ($4000 for a course), no pension program, and no other benefits. Precarious work, it is now called.

I am retired and  living on CPP, OAS and GIS which comes to $1933 per month. This is tough for seniors for as we age we need new glasses, hearing aids and dental work. In Canada these are not covered by Medicare.

On top of this I have a serious health issue. For seniors this is common. Three years ago I started to have control problems with my left foot and leg. Neurologists I consulted in Regina suggested that I might have a neuromuscular disease. But more tests were needed.

I spent the winter of 2016-7 in Ontario. While there a physician referred me to the ALS Clinic at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, University of Toronto, the best in Canada. They did numerous tests, and the group of doctors and scientists concluded that I have a variant of ALS. This is a terminal illness for which there is no cure.

Canadians know more about this disease due to the national publicity given to the case of Sue Rodriguez and her friend and supporter, MP Svend Robinson. She committed suicide, as do many in her position today.

While in Ontario all my doctors and health support workers urged me to take out an Ontario health card in order to benefit from the Ontario Disability Support Program and the Community Care programs. I did so. I am 83 years old. I am not as sharp as I used to be. I was preoccupied with my health and living problems. I did not adequately research this issue.

However, when I returned to Regina in April I was informed that my Saskatchewan health card had been cancelled. I was cut from the Seniors Income Plan (a loss of $240 a month) and was presented with a bill for “over payments” from the plan. This was because I had “moved to Ontario.” This was not the case. I have been a permanent resident of Saskatchewan since 1986.

It seems to me that a Minister of Social Services should be a very compassionate person. They have to deal with the weak and the poor, the most vulnerable in our society. And there are choices to be made.

Yes, there is a big budget deficit. But why go after the weakest and most vulnerable?

Why not go after all those corporations and individuals who use offshore tax havens to avoid paying taxes? Why not start with Cameco? The Canadian Revenue Agency has concluded that they have used intra-corporate transfer pricing to avoid paying $2.4 billion in taxes. How much of that should go to the province of Saskatchewan?

Sincerely yours,

John W. Warnock